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White Privilege & the Mindfulness Movement


Edwin Ng and Ron Purser want to tell you this:

Corporate Mindfulness is Bullshit.

Their Salon article went viral since it first appeared on Sunday September 27th, garnering over 6,000 shares on Facebook and 548 retweets.

The academic duo have been kind enough to provide BPF with an exclusive companion piece, which links white privilege and decolonization to the contemporary discourse of the mindfulness movement. Read on for the full story.

White Privilege and the Mindfulness Movement

By Edwin Ng & Ron Purser


In July this year, we started emailing about a discussion Ron witnessed on Facebook, about a review of David Gelles’s book Mindful Work by Carol Horton. Edwin responded: “I found it difficult to work through the comments. Some of them say things like ‘not all corporate mindfulness advocates….’ It reminds me of reactions like: ‘Not all white people…’, ‘Not all men…’, or ‘You can’t paint all white people/men with the same brushstroke…’ ”


Edwin’s response was partly prompted by debates surrounding #BlackLivesMatter which have circulated beyond the American context, and partly by the fact that he has had to constantly negotiate the tensions that reverberate through his experience as a postcolonial “Western Buddhist” convert in a white-dominant society. His remarks sparked an enthusiastic discussion about the intersections between white privilege and contemporary mindfulness.

To evoke that infernal question that Facebook asks, “What’s on your mind?”, we share here our personal reflections on white privilege and the mindfulness movement. Interspersing our thoughts are segments of the conversation between Angela Davis and Jon Kabat-Zinn at the fundraiser event for East Bay Meditation Center held on January 15, 2015, along with quotes from the article ‘White Fragility’ by the Whiteness Studies scholar, Robin DiAngelo. In showcasing their views as the “interlocutors” for our personal reflections, we hope to invite collective inquiry on this question:

To what extent are the habits of white privilege unacknowledged or under-interrogated in debates about contemporary mindfulness?

Edwin: I often joke that I can pass for a non-white “white” person. Having lived in Melbourne for almost fourteen years as a migrant of “ethnic” minority status, I have developed a personal and professional interest in the challenges of “whiteness.” Even though I do not directly inherit the white privilege of Anglo-Australians, my academic profession affords me considerable cultural cachet, thus allowing me to move within social circles and institutional environments that may not be accessible to other minorities. As I once remarked to a conference audience comprising Christians of Aboriginal, Pacific Islander, and refugee backgrounds: “I’m quite skilled at playing white.”

My critical consciousness about white privilege did not emerge without discomfort and regret. For the first twenty-two years of my life in Singapore, I was part of the ethnic Chinese majority. There was little impetus for me to interrogate how my social positioning and the affordances that came with it—affordances I did not choose but was born into—were predicated on systemic inequality and discrimination. Until I confronted white privilege in Australia, it was difficult for me to gain critical perspective on how my “Chinese privilege” in Singapore was consolidated via cultural norms and structural conditions, habitual thinking and behavior, that erase and marginalize the experiences of others.

[Whiteness Studies scholars] use Whiteness to signify a set of locations that are historically, socially, politically and culturally produced, and which are intrinsically linked to dynamic relations of domination…

Whiteness is thus conceptualized as a constellation of processes and practices rather than as a discrete entity (i.e. skin color alone).

Whiteness is dynamic, relational, and operating at all times and on myriad levels.

These processes and practices include basic rights, values, beliefs, perspectives and experiences purported to be commonly shared by all but which are actually only consistently afforded to white people.

Whiteness Studies begin with the premise that racism and white privilege exist in both traditional and modern forms, and rather than work to prove its existence, work to reveal it.” (DiAngelo 2011: 56)

Ron: Edwin’s observation spurred me to read Robin DiAngelo’s article “White Fragility.” As I started thinking more about the socialized subjectivity of white privilege, I could see striking parallels in the discursive spaces of the contemporary mindfulness movement. When confronted with engaged Buddhist criticisms, mindfulness advocates seem to lack the psychosocial stamina to extend intellectual hospitality to views that question the limitations of neoliberal, individualized mindfulness programs. A range of defensive responses are typical—sidestepping, deflection and hostility—which closely resemble the same sort of countermoves that whites engage in when faced with even a minimal degree of racial stress. Any challenge to invested interests of individualized mindfulness programs seems to be received as a disruption of the status quo, a threat to the ideological equilibrium of the movement.

When I watched the video of Angela Davis and Jon Kabat-Zinn, what immediately stood out for me was how Kabat-Zinn’s rhetoric exposed the “whiteness” of the mindfulness movement. The discourse of universalism was particularly apparent, a form of rhetoric that positions white people as standing outside of culture, and as the universal model of humans.

Kabat-Zinn: When these streams of social justice and activism come together with what I would call “dharma wisdom,” in a universal framework—so that it really is for everybody not just for “-isms” of one sort or another, or “-ists”, you know […] no offense meant, but we need something that speaks to all humanity […]

I see mindfulness as kinds of transformative practices that are capable of moving the bell curve of the entire society towards a new way of understanding of what it means to be human […]

What I am talking about, just to be clear about it, is the liberative power of the Dharma, in its most universal expression, coming out of Buddhism, but let’s keep in mind that the Buddha was not a Buddhist […]

Davis: I am also asking you about who “we” are, because I find it difficult to say “our” actions

Kabat-Zinn: Yea (laughing)… I get that and that may be my white privilege? I don’t know?


Angela Davis & Jon Kabat-Zinn in conversation: “Mindfulness and the Possibility of Freedom” organized by East Bay Meditation Center. Video available for purchase here until December 31, 2015.

Whites are taught to see their perspectives as objective and representative of reality […]

The belief in objectivity, coupled with positioning white people as outside of culture (and thus the norm for humanity), allows whites to view themselves as universal humans who can represent all of human experience […]

In this position, Whiteness is not recognized or named by white people, and a universal reference point is assumed. White people are just people. Within this construction, whites can represent humanity, while people of color, who are never just people but always most particularly black people, Asian people, etc., can only represent their own racialized experiences […]

The discourse of universalism […] declares that we all need to see each other as human beings (everyone is the same).” (DiAngelo 2011: 59)

Edwin: I’m wary and weary of the assertion: “the Buddha was not a Buddhist.” Historians of Buddhist modernism like David McMahan and Donald Lopez Jr. have shown that the classificatory label of “Buddhism” was a construction of Westerncentric discourse, by which the customs of colonized peoples in Asia were often (mis)appropriated, (mis)judged and denigrated. Yet, this classificatory label also provided the colonized peoples with a framework to counter Western hubris by reviving their inherited Buddhism to reclaim cultural and sovereign legitimacy. Secular advocates of mindfulness ostensibly recognize the historical-ideological constructedness of “Buddhism,” when they assert that “the Buddha was not a Buddhist.” Fair enough. But their historical-ideological awareness strikes me as selective and limited, if not disingenuous, immodest, and ungrateful.

"The Rude Buddha" sketch on Saturday Night Live

“The Rude Buddha” sketch on Saturday Night Live

The fact is that mindfulness entered Western modernity by way of the colonial legacy of “Buddhism.” Saying that “the Buddha was not a Buddhist” allows one to capitalize on the aura of authenticity that surrounds Dharma teachings. But it also easily effaces the longstanding relations of domination and exploitation that allow one to receive the gift of the Dharma in the first place, a gift inherited from generations upon generations of non-Western, non-white others who have dutifully maintained the teachings for millennia.

I cannot help but notice the parallels with the historical-ideological construction of “race.” There is no objective biological referent for the label “race.” But the historical fact is that “race” has been used to perpetuate symbolic and actual violence. Yet, “race” has also become the means by which oppressed or marginalized peoples seek justice and reclaim legitimacy for their experience. The universalizing assertion that “people are not any inherent ‘race’, we are all human beings” can thus be a form of whitewashing. An analogous danger confronts “the Buddha was not a Buddhist.” Who has the privilege to make this assertion without suffering consequences? Who suffers? Who risks being marginalized and excluded?

At the same time that whites are taught to see their interests and perspectives as universal, they are also taught to value the individual and to see themselves as individuals rather than as part of a racially socialized group.

Individualism erases history and hides the ways in which wealth has been distributed and accumulated over generations to benefit whites today.

It allows whites to view themselves as unique and original, outside of socialization and unaffected by the relentless racial messages in the culture.” (DiAngelo 2011: 59)


Whites who position themselves as liberal often opt to protect what they perceive as their moral reputations, rather than recognize or change their participation in systems of inequity and domination […]

Pointing out white advantage will often trigger patterns of confusion, defensiveness and righteous indignation.

When confronted with a challenge to white racial codes, many white liberals use the speech of self-defense. This discourse enables defenders to protect their moral character against what they perceive as accusation and attack while deflecting any recognition of culpability or need of accountability.” (DiAngelo 2011: 64)

Ron: David Gelles, whose book (Mindful Work) Carol Horton reviewed, states: “We live in a capitalist economy, and mindfulness can’t change that.” For Gelles, critical inquiry into the structural dynamics and inequities of capitalism are superfluous. By taking the excesses of capitalism as inevitable, Gelles effectively erases the history of institutions (such as slavery), hiding the realities of white privilege. Corporate mindfulness apologists ardently believe that structural and transformative change comes by working within the system, by accepting established institutional norms, by becoming allies with the powers that be, all in the hopes that a form of “trickle-down” mindfulness will spread and flourish. Because the ideology of individualism informs their theories of change, deep investments are made in training individuals in mindfulness, hoping that maybe one day in the far distant future it may lead to corporate culture change.


This individualistic approach obscures the role of institutionalized systems of oppression, shifting the burden of change to the entrepreneurial self which falsely appears as the sole agent untouched by socio-historic conditioning. These advocates also pull the individualism card when called out on the ethical quandaries of corporate mindfulness; for them, it all depends on “good teachers” and the “good intentions” of the individual. Ethical behavior and stress are insourced to individuals; social structures and systems of power are simply viewed as a given. The dominant narrative in the discourse is that we are all unique individuals, so our complicity with systems of power, the intersections of race, class and gender are irrelevant.

When I question the limitations of individualized mindfulness programs in effecting structural, systemic change—whether on Facebook or at conferences—I have faced accusations that I am just “being negative” and that I should provide solutions. For example, Ted Meissner, a MBSR teacher who runs The Secular Buddhist podcast, taunted me on Facebook, “But are you going to do anything other than be a crank, or are you going to make material suggestions about making things better?” And Michael Chakalson, a leading corporate mindfulness consultant in the United Kingdom, stood up at the end of my presentation at the Bangor Mindfulness conference and demanded “Well, what is it you want us to do differently? What solutions do you have for us?”

Davis: But I want to press you on this question of structural transformation. I totally understand how it might be possible to encourage individual police officers to engage in mindful practices so that they might not be so quick to racially profile. But, I don’t know whether it’s possible to effect the kind of structural transformation that way.

Because if one looks at the institution of policing, and its histories, particularly it’s racist history in this country, there is so much that has to be addressed. And individuals are not always aware of the extent to which they embody their histories, they don’t understand, many of us don’t understand, the extent to which we inhabit and are inhabited by our histories […]

Kabat-Zinn: Totally agree. Let me ask you… if mindfulness can easily be coopted in that way or just kept at a level where it doesn’t really change the structural, sort of grid or lattice of our institutions because they are self-preserving. Then, what do you see as an effective alternative at this moment in time?


In the spirit of mindfulness, we share this coming-together of the views on the topic of white privilege and mindfulness. Given the ongoing contestations surrounding #BlackLivesMatter, we trust that others would appreciate that to call out the exclusionary, evasive habits and oversights of “white privilege” is not a matter of making personal attacks on anyone. We also trust that others would recognize that “whiteness” is not merely a racial marker, but an invisibilized mode of social power. Above all, we trust that others would be circumspect about accusing those who challenge structural privilege of being unnecessarily negative in criticism, or expecting the marginalized and excluded to come up with solutions. In highlighting three habitual reactions of “white fragility”—ahistorical universalizing claims; selective appeals to individualism; and deflective, defensive indignation—we hope to invite consideration of how analogous habits might circumscribe debates about contemporary mindfulness.

If there are such analogous habits, they are irreducible to personal shortcomings but are rather the effects of historical forces of conditioning, which nobody can choose to do without since no one can choose the time and place and social circumstances in which one is born and raised. If mindfulness teaches us anything, it is the importance of redirecting our attention continuously to repeatedly question how forces of conditioning are shaping unacknowledged habitual reactive patterns. Inasmuch as this in an ongoing challenge that all parties invested in mindfulness confront, as an interim response to the charge that critics of mindfulness shy away from “solutions”, we’d like to ask: why shouldn’t the repeated questioning of unacknowledged conditionings—the work of staying with the discomfort of repeated questioning, without expectation of any immediate solution or attachment to determinate answers—why shouldn’t this be regarded as part of mindfulness training, as part of the ongoing task of developing “solutions”? Who or what is privileged or disadvantaged when this questioning is not allowed to remain open as a questioning? To this (endless) end, we pose this question for collective inquiry:

To what extent are the habits of white privilege unacknowledged or under-interrogated in debates about contemporary mindfulness?


About the authors

A Buddhist practitioner since the early 1980s, Ron Purser has observed how contemporary mindfulness has grown in popularity. Having worked as a corporate management consultant for many years on attempts at systemic organizational and corporate culture change, along with his perspective of a professor of management, he was moved to write the article “Beyond McMindfulness,” which called into question the neoliberal assumptions and accommodationist orientation of the corporate mindfulness movement.

Edwin Ng describes himself as a postcolonial “Western Buddhist” convert because, even though he was born and raised in Singapore where he was exposed to the Buddhist customs of his diasporic Chinese ancestral heritage, he only embraced Buddhism after he migrated to Australia and discovered Western translations of the teachings. His interest in the cultural translation of mindfulness is motivated by the lived tensions of straddling multiple cultural and intellectual traditions, and of attempting to cultivate mindfulness to support scholarship, pedagogy, and activism within and against an increasingly corporatized academic regime.

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Comments (32)

  • Michael Bresnahan

    White privilege indeed exists but is not the totality or essence of exploitation and oppression. To me the essence of exploitation and oppression is systemic. The system being capitalism-imperialism. The props that flow out of this system whether they be race (white privilege,) patriarchy,, or class privilege all serve to maintain this system.

    One “privilege” few talk about in the privilege discourse might be called “imperialist) privilege. That is the relative privilege that those who are born or live in this country . The wealth has been built on genocide , slavery, and the
    savage oppression of those at the bottom of society. Compared to the suffering of most of non imperialist world ,
    people in this country are “relatively” privileged.

    I am thinking the narrow focus in privilege is a real distraction from the essential importance of focusing on the
    need to root out and get rid of this foul system which in my opinion the root cause on exploitation and oppression.

    The focus on just “mea cupla” privilege and “iidentity” politics leads to narcissistic and dead end reformism and leaves
    out the importance of liberating all of humanity.

    A person should ultimately be judged (in a political sense) whether are part of the movement to emancipate all of
    humanity or mot.

    Everyone can be said to have relative privilege if you want to be carried away on the privilege train. And to me it ultimately leads to nowhere if the system of capitalism-imperialism is let in its reformist wake.

    Although I am an RCP supporter. I am an independent thinker and these ideas are mine.

    Thanks Michael

  • Daniel

    Hi there,

    I’m a member of a mostly white sangha and want to open up a conversation around the topics raised in this article. Do the authors, or anyone else for that matter, have any tips on how to host a fruitful conversation?

  • Joe

    If you have a substantive point to make and are working toward solving a concrete problem I would suggest dropping the term “white privilege”.

    The term is associated with young people who are trust fund children, being pretentious, and trying on how it feels to be high and might. It makes people feel attacked and when they remember sources of that term in the past not holding up to logical argument, they tend not to take anything those people say seriously.

  • Dawn Haney

    Thanks Ed & Ron for sharing this multi-voiced piece with us!

    I’m reflecting on what people mean when they say, “The Buddha was not a Buddhist.” I’ve most often seen it used to distance mindfulness practice from more religious or devotional practices of Buddhism. In the US, it contributes to the wide gulf between mostly white Western converts to Buddhism and Asian Buddhists who built Buddhist temples after immigrating to the US. It feels like part of the larger (pretty much non-existent) conversation about how white folks are culturally appropriating mindfulness and Buddhism, detaching it from its history and culture for our own purposes. And in the case of corporate mindfulness, also for our personal financial benefit.

    I’ve appreciated this article on cultural appropriation, in relation to the upcoming Day of the Dead celebrations, for it’s recognition of *why* appropriation is so seductive for white folks and it’s pointing to ways we can interact with other cultural traditions in ways that don’t steal them for our own:

  • Kevin Knox

    Excellent article but decisively important among things needing to be questioned here is the modern, secular, psychologized mis-definition and mis-appropriation of “mindfulness” (sati), which in turn has its roots in the wholesale invention of modern vipassana meditation techniques in Burma in the late 19th and early 29th centuries.

    Mindfulness in its native context is one of the 8 parts of the Buddha’s Eightfold Path. It is not ethically neutral, has nothing to do with “paying attention, on purpose, non-judgmentally, in the present moment” AND, most decisively, assumes and requires preceding practice of generosity (dana) and ethics (sila). Insert ethics into the mix and corporate appropriation, let alone training for the military, is shown as being just as absurd and unthinkable as it should be to all of those making money from ersatz mindfulness trainings.

    Robert Sharf has written the best overview of these issues I have seen (as well as offering a blistering rebuttal to the misuse of mindfulness in a lecture on Youtube). Here’s the link to his paper:

    David Chapman has a good concise blog post on just how newly-minted modern vipassana meditation practice is – and how utterly divorced from the Buddha of the Pali suttas such practices are (with MBSR and the like thus being watered-down versions of watered down versions):

  • Ted Meissner

    “Ted Meissner, a MBSR teacher who runs The Secular Buddhist podcast, taunted me on Facebook, “But are you going to do anything other than be a crank, or are you going to make material suggestions about making things better?” And Michael Chakalson, a leading corporate mindfulness consultant in the United Kingdom, stood up at the end of my presentation at the Bangor Mindfulness conference and demanded “Well, what is it you want us to do differently? What solutions do you have for us?””

    Ron, you yourself own that title of mindful crank, and started your own podcast with that very name: My question and Michael’s still stand — what solutions do you suggest? We and others have tried to engage you in meaningful dialogue many times; that door remains open, please come through.

  • Ted Meissner

    By the way, I heard that a recent conference Ron organized had 100% white keynote speakers. Didn’t you have full control over the speaker list?

  • Ann Gleig


    I’m excited to see more critiques of white privilege in American meditation communities but I’m not sure that it can be restricted to the mindfulness movement. My own current research is tracking attempts within American Buddhist convert communities –particularly EBMC, Insight New York, Brooklyn Zen Center and Insight Meditation Community of Washington–to disrupt the white privilege that is a characteristic of liberal white sanghas. These sanghas like the Asian modernist reform communities (Burmese tradition, Goenka) all use the language of universalism that you critique Kabat-Zinn for. Take for example this teaching by Goenka; “The Universal Teaching of the Buddha”

    So I would like to see more in this analysis on what makes secular mindfulness distinct from Buddhist modernism in terms of white privilege?

    A second point pertains to what Ted writes above. In the recent conference on mindfulness organized by Ron, all of the guest speakers were white:

    I noticed this earlier and was really disappointed. I know that Mushim presented on diversity but one of the key points noted in my research with racial justice and diversity attempts with sanghas is that it is essential to have POC represented in teacher and leadership roles. This was a missed opportunity to do that and I would hope to see more from someone who is writing critiques of white privilege themselves. This also makes me think about your earlier piece on wanting mindfulness leaders to show “good faith” in their responses to you. An excellent call but one that must come from all sides. If you are attacking Kabat-Zinn for demonstrating white privilege whilst he is participating in a fund-raiser for EBMC, the most diverse sangha in the US. , what does it say about your position that you are critiquing white privilege after having organized a conference with all white key speakers? To me it says that both you and Kabat-Zinn have some work to do—good faith would be acknowledging that a little more I think. From a similar angle, if you are looking for good faith is *taunting* really the best word choice? (“Ted Meissner is taunting me on FB”) You are asking for engagement from secular mindfulness so I’m curious as to why when you get a response you are dismissing it as taunting? I don’t think you can ask for good faith and open, critical collaboration and then dictate the terms of engagement–that to me is all critique and not collaboration. I think either is fine but they don’t cohere together.

    Finally, all the strategies you mention of mindfulness leaders—sidestepping, deflecting–are almost word-by-word the charges made by the Speculative Non-Buddhists (Glenn Wallis, Tom Pepper ect) of X-Buddhists (American convert Buddhism) so again I’m curious as to what differentiates secular mindfulness from American convert Buddhism, if anything for you?


  • Ann Gleig

    Sorry, * All of the Keynote speakers* were white

    Ps. Also just to be clear: I think the call for good faith and open collaboration is important and long, long overdue. As is the call to move beyond traditional/secular pure.impure binary but good faith has to be enacted all around and the fact is that secular mindfulness has been critiqued many times using a comparison to traditional mindfulness (Ron you have done this several times yourself) so give them a second to catch up to the shifting of the critque parameters. Whilst people like David Gellner might not give a #$%, i think people like Diane Winston (who has a long history in engaged Buddhism herself) and Ted, who has hosted a number of speakers on diversity (Including Carol Horton and Mushim) do deserve a little more good faith of their own.

  • Louise Dunlap

    I appreciate that BPF is publishing this discussion. There is so much to be understood by those of us inside the bubble of whiteness, a long, slow, bumpy process–for me at least. If anyone is interested in a different take on the role of mindfulness in social transformation, I suggest the dharma discussion I listened to yesterday out of NYC. Hear five WOMEN of color–three of them with PhDs & books–speaking together on “Where Spirit and Action Meet: Continuing the Legacy of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.” It’s on the Plum Village YouTube Channel ( )
    These sisters hold out hope for structural change through Mindfulness in direct, practical ways. (They don’t get distracted by corporate m’fulness, even though I know this is a big issue for some in the Buddhist world. And there was none of the taunting behavior I have found so often in academia.) Theirs are the teaching voices I want to listen to in these challenging times.

    Watch Arthel Neville, Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, Alycee J. Lane, Sister Peace, Buddhist nun,Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village & Marisela Gomez and see what you think.

  • Zoe Nicholson

    Buddhism is ancient, involved and, for the Engaged Buddhist, best practiced in a cushion/street combination. 20 silent minutes a day to step in and out of the corporate web, with no other practice, has nothing to do with Buddhism. nothing

  • david

    I remember countless past lives, buddhism is the closest religion that mimic’s what i *know* already. And each life, be it advantaged or disadvantaged socially, i chose for the experiences my spirit wanted in thaose incarnations. In this life, likewise, i trust that eternity is perfect and that every person was born in to the circumstances to experience what their soul needs in this life… time being a loose phenomena we live outside of – that when we take a birth, it is for the entire life, as it is, not as liberalism would like it. This entirely subjective view as the living soul, is not liberalism that believes in objectivism and a social imagination that dies when the mind dies. This article and the race narratives are all based on a mind that dies and a perception that dies, none of which trifle buddhism much being itself the awakened root, not the mirage of phenomena. These hyjakkers have redefined buddhism as liberalism when it is rather libertarianism at its root, respecting utterly that perception is not shared at all, but subjective. Gautama Siddhartha did not sit beneath the bodhi tree for a social cause, but for his liberation, he walked away from the garden of liberalism at the outset of his search. Buddha nature knows only the essential will in every being to be free, each deeply personal and not about christian save the world narratives or social justice ideals of socialist totalitarian liberalism. In the latter we find the birth of all the great evils of the world, ‘fixing’ what is already divine… fixing the unknowable and the profound with the dross of the mind for so many democides and genocides; hatreds, racisms and stupidities. Nothing needs fixed, only the mind portends as much.

  • Peter Kerr

    I once suffered through an insufferable, overheated conversation between two “perfessers” as they discussed the meaning of the “comma.” Only in academia! And only in academic circles do practitioners not flush at the use of terms like Africana Studies which requires further subdivision into African Africana Studies as opposed to American Africana Studies, both of which need to be distinguished from African American Studies and American American Studies. And only in academic circles will we hear bullshit words from the bullshitters who bullshit that corporate mindfulness is bullshit, such as: invisibilized, affordances, under-interrogated, etc.

    Personally, I can pass for a white, non-white “white”, and my academic profession affords me considerable cultural cachet because I’m quite skilled at playing white as I erase and marginalize the experiences of others. Of course, whiteness is conceptualized as a constellation of processes and practices rather than as a discrete entity, precisely because there is no such discrete entity, but in academia, that is not an obstacle. Whiteness is dynamic, relational, and operating at all times and on myriad levels, so of course, we must have a burgeoning of Whiteness Studies departments on college campuses that will focus on revealing white privilege rather than actually proving its existence. Phew, it is hard to keep up with the bullshit of these bullshitters. But let’s try.

    You just can’t make up the tortured logic and verbosity of: “I could see striking parallels in the discursive spaces of the contemporary mindfulness movement. When confronted with engaged Buddhist criticisms, mindfulness advocates seem to lack the psychosocial stamina to extend intellectual hospitality to views that question the limitations of neoliberal, individualized mindfulness programs.” Phew again!

    And because Jon Kabat-Zinn speaks English, what immediately stood out for Perfesser Purser was how Kabat-Zinn’s rhetoric exposed the “whiteness” of the mindfulness movement. Such simple notions as the transformative power of mindfulness on the individual are of no interest to the perfessers who prefer to lecture the unwashed that “the belief in objectivity, coupled with positioning white people as outside of (sic) culture (and thus the norm for humanity), allows whites to view themselves as universal humans who can represent all of human experience.” Yeah, man, that’s my goal alright and I thank the perfesser for articulating my innermost drives for me. See, academics really are useful, in spite of what normal people think.

    But let’s slog on: Pouncing on a review of David Gelles’ book (Mindful Work) by Carol Horton, Perfesser Purser bleats that the quote “We live in a capitalist economy, and mindfulness can’t change that” is the ultimate condemnation of the author’s negation of cultural context, which of course includes – wait for it – “slavery” and his naive belief in a Reaganite concept of – wait again – “trickle-down” mindfulness that will spread and flourish, simply as a result of individuals applying the principles of the teachings of the Buddha. How naive to believe in what has been demonstrated over and over again for two and a half thousand years, but which is far too simplistic for the addled academic mind.

    But we are dealing with the modern academic mind here, which ardently wants to believe it is still the 1960’s, that the battle for civil rights rages on, and that it is the academic alone who sees the – buzzword alert! – “institutionalized systems of oppression,” that “shift the burden of change to the entrepreneurial self which falsely appears as the sole agent untouched by socio-historic conditioning.” Phew, again and again! Man, is this guy on a roll or what?

    Of course, the good perfesser ultimately reveals his own psychosocial bogeyman when he bemoans that he has courageously had to face down the naysayers who have mercilessly accused him of the ultimate crime of “being negative.” And how unfair of the capitalist swine to further taunt the lonely stalwart of 1960’s radicalism with the horrendous slings and arrows of “What solutions do you have for us?” Fortunately for us all, Perfesser Purser was able to face down his demons and managed to rationalize his way out of actually proposing anything useful. Well done, perfesser, I foresee a long and prosperous career for you in the hallowed halls of academia.

  • bezi

    how’s this then: “White privilege, as an extension of global white male supremacy, has damn near fucked off the planet…”?

    Succinct enough?

  • JRH

    Yeah, that was perfectly succinct. Now can we talk about how insanely self-righteous and idealistic that is? Can we talk about where we would really be if white culture or some other culture wouldn’t have dominated the globe? We probably wouldn’t have common people of all different races, sexes and creeds peacefully philosophizing about spirituality and politics. I know where my family is from is not exactly the basis of any ideal cultural models… People who are from cultures that were heavily colonized by whites are crazy idealistic about ‘the good old days.’ Colonizing didn’t just destroy cultures, it removed any realistic memories of them. And, i’m not saying we shouldn’t fight structural racism or patriarchy. All I’m saying is get a grip. 2000 years ago we did not live in egalitarian paradise. Hell, a hundred years ago, before the invention of contraceptives, woman stood no realistic chance at the low levels of equality we scoff at today.

    This comment section perfectly summarizes everything that is wrong with humanity. Truly, we are destined to die.

  • B Luther

    I am white. I am male. I am married to a woman. I am nearing 50. I am an artist. And I am a “zen priest.” At this point in my life I am not very interested in “Buddhism.” I am interested in living a so-called awakening life, studying Dharma (as “Buddhists” actually traditionally described themselves).

    I do not like to call myself a Buddhist, for many of the reasons listed in these responses. But after I was harassed by a self-described Catholic department chair who told me he “disagreed with my word view” when I needed to attend a retreat, I utilized the label to secure a legal settlement when he attempted to fire me. I was systematically persecuted for my beliefs – or what he assumed my beliefs were (we’d never actually spoken.) Other people, attempting to secure his favor, joined in and actually went on record calling me “a bad Buddhist” because in their estimation I had human failings that confirmed for them that I deserved persecution (these were ostensibly liberal arts professionals, by the way.) It was a mess, and I uncovered a lot of systemic corruption.

    Raised working class, I was attracted to Zen in college, lived in Zen practice places through my 20s into my 30s, and I’ve stuck with it. It has been very hard at times. I did not receive access through “white privilege”, but by suffering and seeking out help. I’ve had abusive and unskillful teachers (some Asian, some women, some Asian women), and like for many others, years devoted to Zen meant I did not pursue professional goals, nor have a family as I’d long hoped. Being a “Zen professional” was not an option, nor much desired. My material prospects continue to remain sketchy. I devote a lot of energy to making zazen available to others, and voluntarily (without any pay) help lead a sangha that fully represents the incredible diversity of the region where I live. All races, and numbers of native nations are represented in our sangha.

    I am a weirdo. Always have been. I was bullied and harassed throughout my childhood for it, and well, it still happens. I feel lucky to have avoided the penal and mental health systems, and maybe being white and male helped that, I don’t know. But nonetheless, I am weird, and I have never “capitalized” on any so-called advantages, even the advantages of being a freak. Like many other introverts, I keep my total non-conformity as modest as possible, in large part because it was how I learned to survive violent alcoholic chauvinistic racist parenting, and a “white world” that had no more use for me than anyone else who failed to share their values.

    I have suffered greatly from the effects of late-stage patriarchy and imperialism and bigotry, too. But I don’t get to say this, because to the world I appear white, male and cis-gendered. I work in the arts, and I have been passed over more times than I can mention because I have not matched the hiring and exhibition goals of a field that is quite rightly obsessed with inclusiveness. My work has been dismissed based on my skin color and my gender (“no more white dudes” was the title of one review). The fact that I feel totally queer, but happen to like girls, well, there’s no box to check for that. That I am pink skinned, but have lived my whole life most comfortable and accepted among non-white communities (either overseas, or in American black, Latino, and Asian immigrant neighborhoods and on Indian reservations), likewise. I can’t get into the losses of friends from AIDS and violence. The close friends and lovers who’ve experienced sexual assault, etc. The personal losses are frankly overwhelming at times. That in another time and place I would have been diagnosed as autistic, or schizophrenic, whathaveyou – well, I managed to not end up in an institution, so I count myself lucky.

    I make no definitive assessments. I feel resigned to living my life a bit marginalized. As I say, I am weird, and get this reinforced plenty. That I also have to carry the burden of being a “white male” at a time when white men are (often deservedly) getting their comeuppance is I figure just my karmic cross to bear. But this is just a word to say that I no more appreciate having my individual integrity violated and dismissed than anyone else.

  • anonymous

    Is there a way to contact the authors? I would like to know if they disapprove of listening to mindfulness for those with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, etc.

  • Ted Meissner

    Both Ron and Ed are on Facebook, but good luck getting them to respond — they have both assiduously avoided responses to everyone here, like me and Ann Gleig, even though the are quite capable of posting a comment.

    It has been an unfortunate experience to hear claims of interest to meaningfully engage on the topic — a topic with which I *agree* with many of their views — and when push comes to shove, both authors refuse to do so.

  • Firehorse

    I very much appreciate the perspective of the authors. It’s not easy to present something contrary to the prevailing orthodoxy. I would love to see more content on these issues on Secular Buddhism as well.

  • Jennifer Hawkins

    Edwin Ng & Ron Purser

    I’m currently engaged with the BPF “U Mad?” course, and in keeping with that, I have to admit that this article makes me mad. I have so much respect for BPF and for all BPF does, and it sickens me to see that someone would publish an article on here that specifically tries to paint Ted Meissner … TED MEISSNER!!! … as someone who can’t check their privilege and be a good ally. I can understand a certain sectarian dislike of Secular Buddhism or secular mindfulness programs. I think a lot of the concerns that lead to such dislike could be allayed if Traditional Buddhists would speak to us and mindfully listen to our answers, but even if they choose not to… to channel a dislike of Secular Buddhism or secular mindfulness into singling out someone to paint as bigoted is too darn much. Are you aware of the fact that Ted Meissner has had diversity as a key part of Secular Buddhist Association’s mission since the beginning? Are you aware that half of our board are minorities, and that number will increase once our new board members have fully joined? Do you even know Ted Meissner at all, personally? Ted Meissner and SBA have been the first people/communities to ever make me fully welcomed as a disabled woman of color. I am seen as an individual, yet the unique concerns generated by my various statuses and lablels are taken seriously. And on a personal level, Ted Meissner and others at SBA have helped me to regain a lot of my personal strength after becoming disabled. I went from barely being able to read a short article to sitting on the Board.

    Perhaps you two were just angry because you had a view on Secular Buddhism or secular mindfulness that Ted Meissner questioned and you weren’t able to meet that questioning. I do that too sometimes. But to decide to misuse social justice to try to strike back at someone who doesn’t agree with your specific views on Buddhism or meditation… Social justice is not a game. It is life or death for people like me. When you misuse it like this, you detract from real efforts to really help. I’m not just appalled that you attacked someone that I personally know and is probably the best ally that I’ve ever encountered, but that you misused social justice in this way. That you allow an attachment to views (even after they have been legitimately questioned) to drive you to such a hateful act as to target someone, their organization, and their entire belief system – and in such a way as to cause harm to social justice at large.

    This is very wrong. I hope that (especially now that time has gone by) you have cooled off and become more ready to engage in mindful dialogue. And even if you continue to have issues with Secular Buddhism or secular meditation (legitimate or not), that you will abandon these kinds of tactics and do what is in your power to undo the damage something like this does. It is never ok to misuse social justice. That’s my life and the life of everyone like me that you are playing with. And that’s a great friend and ally that you are trying to whip up hate against. Maybe you won’t read this or respond or change in any way, but I sincerely hope you do.

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